Opinion | Pakistan has not contributed to climate change, but it is paying the price

I’ve covered wars all over the world. I have also reported on many natural disasters. I’ve seen more than my share of death and destruction, but I’ve never cried.

I have recently traveled to the flood-affected areas of Pakistan and cannot hold back the tears. My country is drowning in one of the worst environmental disasters the world has ever experienced. After visiting some of the flood-affected areas, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he had never seen climate-related destruction on such a scale and asked the international community for help. Guterres noted that Pakistan is a victim of climate change produced by the most heavily industrialized countries.

This was an important statement. Experts say Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of global emissions. Now he is paying dearly for the mistakes made by others.

One third of Pakistan is underwater, an area equivalent to the size of Great Britain. Most of the flooded areas I could only visit by boat. I’m at a loss for words to explain this human tragedy. Why can’t I control my tears?

When the women and children besieged by the flood saw me, they started screaming for help from the rooftops of their houses. They desperately wanted to be evacuated. I tried my best to help, but sometimes I couldn’t because my boat was too small. Many people told me they had gone for days without eating or drinking. I never thought I’d find myself reporting the deaths of children in Pakistan from starvation, but this flood changed everything by causing a storm of destruction and disease. In Baluchistan, I saw children dying on the side of the road because, for lack of alternatives, they had been forced to drink water contaminated by the floods. The most common question I heard in disaster areas was “Where is the government?”

Interestingly, all four flood-affected provinces are governed by different political parties. Imran Khan’s party, the PTI, runs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Allies of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif control Sindh and Baluchistan. People in the flooded areas were unhappy with all of them. Most of their parliamentary representatives were missing in action. Flood victims complained to me over and over again about bad governance and mismanagement. Their helplessness has brought tears to my eyes many times.

Millions of people affected by the floods live outdoors, without tents or other shelters. They don’t even have cemeteries to bury family members who died while battling the floods. Many have died from snake bites. On several occasions, the terrible conditions forced me to fill the role of rescuer, but then I had to remind myself that I am a journalist. My job, as I see it, is to give a voice to millions of my voiceless compatriots.

Two months ago, through one of my columns in The Post, I warned that climate change is becoming a greater threat to Pakistan than terrorism. I wrote that article at the beginning of the monsoon season. Only about 150 people died in the storms that occurred around then. Now the death toll approaches 1,400. More than 33 million people, including 16 million children, have been affected by this catastrophe; 3.4 million children are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance to protect them from threats of waterborne disease or drowning. Among the millions affected are at least 650,000 pregnant women, of whom 73,000 are expected to give birth next month.

The floods destroyed more than 1,800 miles of roads and 149 bridges. The waters damaged 19,000 schools and 900 health facilities. Prison authorities are driving detainees away from prisons threatened with flooding. I have seen hundreds of date, banana and coconut crops wiped out by the floods. Crops of wheat, rice and cotton have suffered immense damage.

The Pakistani economy has suffered losses estimated at 30 billion dollars. The disaster risks exacerbating unemployment and hunger. Don’t forget that poverty has always contributed to extremism in countries like Pakistan.

Our country has the right to demand climate justice. Fortunately, the United States has already announced an aid package.

This is not to say that we don’t need to address the problems that are also our fault. Last week I visited the flood-affected area of ​​Kalam, where many hotels on the Swat River were washed away. Locals told me that heavy floods had destroyed these hotels in 2010. Some hotels were rebuilt within the river area after local authorities were bribed. The river has now taken revenge on these illegal structures.

Pakistan has apparently learned no lessons from the floods of 2010. Deforestation was a major cause of these floods and again played a similar role in the floods of 2022. Climate change activists estimate that Pakistan faces some of the highest levels of disaster risk in the world. We and the world must stop repeating our mistakes if we don’t want things to get worse.

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